Secret Empire #6 (of 10) — Writer: Nick Spencer; Pencils: Leonil Francis Yu; Inks: Gerry Alanguilan with Leonil Francis Yu; Colors: Sunny Gho with Java Tartaglia
Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #2 — Writer: Chip Zdarsky; Art: Adam Kubert; Colors: Jordie Bellaire
Astonishing X-Men is a 12-issue maxi-series by Soule, who used that length to good effect a couple of years ago on She-Hulk, with a series of one- and two-issue tales that also formed a larger arc. Here, he’s working with an X-lineup we might have seen in the ’90s, with Rogue and Gambit, plus Psylocke, Angel and the older Wolverine, plus Mystique (although she isn’t in the first issue… or is she?), and, for the hell of it, Bishop and Fantomex. The plot involves Psylocke possessed by the heavyweight-class psychic the Shadow King, and does a good job of feeling like an X-Men book (Jim Cheung’s very solid art helps with this), acknowledging everyone’s long history while moving things along briskly, and ending on a cliffhanger reveal that should bring back readers to see how “real” it is. Secret Empire, just over halfway complete, is at the “heroes so far down their only way to go is up” stage, and rallies its troops well; there are the usual couple of twists, betrayals, and resurrections to keep everyone awake. Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man knows that it’s never going to be the main Spidey book, and embraces its second-banana status with light-hearted humor, guest stars like Johnny Storm and Ironheart, and the Adam Kubert/Jordie Bellaire art; if you like Spider-Man, it’s a more-than-decent-enough story about him.
Ms. Marvel #20 — Writer: G. Willow Wilson; Art: Marco Failla; Colors: Ian Herring
America #5 — Writers: Gabby Rivera with Kelly Thompson; Art: Ramon Villalobos; Colors: Tamra Bonvillain with Brittany Peer
Invincible Iron Man #9 — Writer: Brian Michael Bendis; Art: Stefano Caselli; Colors: Marte Gracia with Israel Silva
Of Marvel’s distaff books — the ones where most of the action is right now, really — The Mighty Thor is the best, although despite its cover it’s mostly the story of the War Thor, the character who’s picked up the Ultimate Universe Thor hammer and transformed into an avenging force. This could have been overkill, or at least stupid, in many writers’ hands, but Aaron has an affinity for B-movie heart-tugging, and his tragic origin makes emotional sense, and works well. There’s the Jane Foster Thor, too, with a last-page splash (and an ad for the next three issues) that indicate that her story might be coming to an end; let’s hope that’s a feint, because under Aaron’s scripting she’s more than proved her heroic worth over the last few years. Ms. Marvel has had the benefit of a good writer, too, in G. Willow Wilson, and the current arc, which manages to acknowledge the Secret Empire Hydra stuff (and connect it to the current political climate in the real world) as a way of enhancing, rather than taking over or ruining, the story, all while spinning a compelling plot about family, friends, betrayal and heroism, demonstrates her skills nicely. America wasn’t as successful in its first four-issue tale, mostly because neither the readers nor the creative team seemed to have a handle on the main character, but that improved toward the end, and this week’s beginning of a new story is much better; it helps that it guest-stars Kate “Hawkeye” Bishop (in collaboration with her regular writer, Kelly Thompson), with the two friends going on a road trip, where their easy rapport and similar kick-ass personalities lead to a lot of action and fun. If you picked up an earlier issue of this title and weren’t impressed, try this one and see if it isn’t more to your liking. That leaves Invincible Iron Man, with Riri fighting a terrorist who’s also the current ruler of Latveria; the usual subplots and supporting cast all get some good bits, and her combination of rookie learning and quick, think-outside-the-box solutions to her problems — especially the one on the last page — show why she’s holding her own as an addition to the Iron Man mythos.
Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye #10 — Writer: Jon Rivera; Story: Gerald Way and Jon Rivera; Art: Michael Avon Oeming; Colors: Nick Filardi
Justice League Essentials: Batman #1, Cyborg #1, The Flash #1, Justice League #1, Superman #1
Batman gives us one of those thug’s-eye views of the Gotham underworld, as a henchman gets whipsawed by the Joker/Riddler rivalry and ends up… well, it’s pretty good; I like Tom King’s work more all the time. Cave Carson, in addition to its cybernetic eye, has an alternate-dimension Doc Magnus and his Metal Men, vengeful plants, Cave Carson Junior, and enough other elements to satisfy regular readers, although it’s not the best spot to jump on for newcomers (that would be the first trade collection, or the individual earlier comics). The Wild Storm sees the WildC.A.T.S. coalescing, and Stormwatch becoming their adversary, with a lot of screen time for Jacob Marlowe and Henry Bendix; Ellis and Davis-Hunt offer clear, interesting versions of these characters that should attract both original fans and new readers. There’s also Justice League Essentials, a quintet of $1 reprints of the first ongoing “Rebirth” issues of Batman, Cyborg, The Flash, Justice League and Superman; the original printings of some of those books, especially The Flash and Superman, are getting hard to find, making this cheap alternative even better.
Generation Gone #1 — Writer: Ales Kot; Art: Andre Lima Araujo; Colors: Chris O’Halloran
Grrl Scouts #3 — Writer/Artist: Jim Mahfood; Colors: Justin Stewart
Bitch Planet Triple Feature #2 — Creators: Various
Moonstruck reminds me a little of Paul Taylor’s webcomic Wapsi Square, in the way it starts out in a seemingly-normal small-college-town setting, with twentysomethings working in coffee shops, but then we gradually realize everyone’s more than they seem: the book’s title actually refers to a werewolf, and there’s the talking bat who’s in a band with the Gorgon, and the other supernatural characters, and then hi-jinx ensue. It’s amiable, well-constructed all-ages fun; I’m surprised it’s not at Boom, since it would fit so well with Lumberjanes, The Backstagers, etc. Generation Gone sees Ales Kot in Mr. Robot territory, with three computer-hacker friends attracting the attention of a shadowy government agency and ending up the subjects of some kind of cyber-supernatural possession; it’s briskly and entertainingly told, and for $4.99 the first issue offers fifty pages of story: worth a look, at least. Grrl Scouts is typical Jim Mahfood: guns, drugs, psychedelia, violence and humor, with a Tank Girl-like trio of kick-ass women in the lead; I’d be happy to read an issue of it a month for the rest of my life. Bitch Planet approaches somewhat the same empowerment theme from a completely different angle; Triple Feature is an anthology giving other creators a chance to play in Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine de Landro’s dysfunctionally-patriarchal sandbox. Like The Handmaid’s Tale, it’s riding the woke zeitgeist of the current political climate, giving an extra buzz to all three stories: by Che Grayson and Sharon Lee de la Cruz; Danielle Henderson, Ro Stein and Ted Brandt; and Jordan Clark and Naomi Franquiz.
Archie #22 — Writer: Mark Waid; Art/Colors: Pete Woods
Shaolin Cowboy #4 — Writer/Artist: Geof Darrow; Colors: Dave Stewart
Royal City #5 — Creator: Jeff Lemire
Jimmy’s Bastards is a Garth Ennis James Bond pastiche, about a secret agent who’s irresistible to women, and during his long career has left a trail of dozens of the bastard children in the title, now grown and banded together to exact revenge. This is played mostly for laughs, based on the protagonist’s unflappable unbeatability; it’s minor Ennis, but that’s better than most other writers, and all the perfect Russ Braun British caricatures seal the deal. Archie concludes a three-parter about Betty being badly injured as a result of an Archie/Reggie drag race; she flatlined in the cliffhanger ending last issue, but would they actually kill her dead? You probably know the answer to that, but either way there’s a definite change to Riverdale’s status quo; Waid knows these characters well, and manages to wring every drop of angst from them — and, presumably, for the next couple of issues too. Shaolin Cowboy has twelve pages of its hero vanquishing a gauntlet of foes while wielding two pit bulls with knives projecting, Wolverine-like, out of where their front paws used to be (he holds them by the tails and twirls them like nunchakus), because that’s just how Geof Darrow rolls; obsessive visual detail and desert-dry humor complete the package. I Hate Fairyland is worth it just for the way Skottie Young draws himself on the cover; the inside shows that he isn’t done wringing darkly comic variations on his stuck-in-Fairyland plots just yet. Royal City, Jeff Lemire’s quietly devastating character study of a factory-town family haunted by a child’s death, ends its first arc with a couple of revelations; there’s enough more to know about these people to hope that their comic settles in for a long run.